Inside look: the AFRO speaks with Black businesses at the new Sycamore & Oak Retail Village

By Megan Sayles,
AFRO Business Writer,

The Retail Village at Sycamore & Oak opened to D.C.’s Congress Heights community on June 14. The 23,000-square-foot community-led and sustainable development is now home to 13 local, Black-owned small businesses ranging from restaurants to apparel stores. 

The retail village is expected to create more than 100 jobs for Ward 8 residents, and it will serve as a hub for culture, entrepreneurship and entertainment in the community. 

Mayor Muriel Bowser attended the grand opening to express her excitement about the new development, which initially broke ground in 2022. 

“What we have here at Sycamore & Oak is a beautiful facility. It’s a facility where we can incubate businesses,” said Bowser.  “One thing I know about D.C. residents is that they are full of talent and full of ideas. They are entrepreneurs, and they want their fair shot. That’s what we’re giving them here are Sycamore & Oak.” 

Here’s a look at some of the businesses that will occupy the retail village. 

Joe Houston
Joe Houston Jr. is the owner of WeFitDC, the first private gym in Ward 8. (Photos courtesy of Glen Gordon Jr.)


With 10 years of experience in the wellness industry under his belt, Joe Houston Jr. opened the first private gym in the Congress Heights community. WeFitDC seeks to empower residents through fitness and health education. 

Houston chose to enter the wellness space to reduce health disparities and chronic disease in Black communities. 

“Being from Ward 8, I’ve seen a lot of health disparities. People die from high blood pressure and diabetes, and my mother died from underlying health issues,” said Houston. “I tell a lot of entrepreneurs that we can have all of the money in the world, but if we’re unhealthy it defeats the purpose. We must push the needle, especially in underserved areas, on promoting health and fitness.” 

WeFitDC’s fitness classes provide a place for community in the neighborhood. They include high-intensity interval training (HIIT), yoga and boxing bootcamps. The center will also provide exercise classes for older adults.

“With this being the first fitness studio in Ward 8, I am in awe. I really still don’t believe it,” said Houston. “I’m just looking to lead the movement of pushing wellness in my community.”

Amanda Stephenson is fighting Ward 8 food deserts with her eatery and grocery store, Fresh Food Factory Market.
(Photos courtesy of Glen Gordon Jr.)

The Fresh Food Factory Market

Half of the District’s food deserts, or areas lacking in affordable healthy food, are located in Ward 8, according to D.C. Policy Center. Amanda Stephenson created the Fresh Food Factory Market to mitigate this plight. 

The shop doubles as a market and an eatery, providing residents with access to fresh, healthy and ethnic food options. 

“I’ve seen the decline of health in my community. A lot of people are suffering from food-related diseases, and the life expectancy East of the Anacostia River is 15 to 16 years less than those West of the river,” said Stephenson. “We’re in the middle of a food desert, and that’s the reason why we have these statistics.”

The market portion of the space provides grocery goods and wellness items, while the eatery serves items like smoothies, shakes, acai bowls and fresh fruit and vegetable salads. The Fresh Food Factory Market also intends to host cooking demonstrations to show residents how eating healthy doesn’t mean sacrificing on flavor. 

“I’m excited to be right here in my ward actually doing something at a larger scale to make sure that our residents are within a mile of better food options because transportation is limited,” said Stephenson. “We want to meet them where they are and help them along the way.” 

Jovan Davis, an anti-violence advocate, created LoveMore Brand to encourage people to promote love over hate. (Photos courtesy of Glen Gordon Jr.)

LoveMore Brand

Anti-violence advocate Jovan Davis created the LoveMore Brand to urge people to promote love over hate. Davis grew up in Washington Highlands in Ward 8, and as a child, he saw firsthand the impact of gun violence. 

“Growing up witnessing the trauma that comes from violence and seeing families go through it, I thought it would be cool to be a part of the solution,” said Davis. 

After mentoring area youth who were previously incarcerated, Davis devised the concept for LoveMore Brand, a clothing line that endorses the end of violence in communities. 

“We used the idea of wearing our hearts on our sleeves to come up with the brand,” said Davis. “We’re putting the love back into our communities.” 

The LoveMore Brand’s clothing line includes sweatshirts, T-shirts, sweat suits and hats. 

Yarne Glascoe is the owner of Vaya Beauty, a beauty supply store that exclusively sells Black-owned beauty brands. (Photos courtesy of Glen Gordon Jr.)

Vaya Beauty

Although African Americans are big spenders in the beauty space, they do not retain much ownership in the industry. Yarne Glascoe, a cosmetology instructor and hair stylist, created Vaya Beauty to promote Black-owned beauty products. 

Glascoe, who is also the owner of D.C.’s Salon on the Ave, has worked in the beauty industry for 10 years. 

“I started Vaya Beauty because of the lack of representation of Black beauty products in the beauty industry as a whole. It’s a billion-dollar industry, and only about 2.6 percent of the brands are Black-owned,” said Glascoe. “African Americans are the largest consumers of beauty products, and we don’t see as much money as we should.” 

All of Vaya Beauty’s products are Black-owned, and they come from small businesses across the country. Glasco’s current favorite is the Janet & Jo nail polish, which is a locally-owned, vegan-friendly brand. 

“Our skin and hair is different from other races, so we need products that are curated for us. The majority of brands that you see in big-box stores are made for other races. When they make their products, they don’t have us in mind,” said Glascoe. “My store is dedicated to African Americans’ skin and hair, and it’s making sure African-American brands get the recognition they deserve.” 

Megan Sayles is a Report for America Corps member.

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